-BY Tina Rulewicz

Like so many artists and innovative minds before her, Lisa-Marie Nowakowski moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts because of the enchanting and inspiring character the small village possesses and exudes. “I am in love with the geography here: the water; the dunes; the forests; and, even Commercial Street, are all so beautiful in an ever-changing way.” Moreover, Provincetown’s character makes itself even more unique and inviting because it is a place that truly welcomes all people, regardless of race, sex, and sexual orientation.

Prior to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Provincetown existed as primarily a fishing and whaling community. In 1899, premier artist and teacher Charles Hawthorne established The Cape Cod School of Art. According to Lois Griffel (, former Provincetown resident, artist, and director of the said school, “Hawthorne really opened the first school in the United States that was dedicated solely to painting outdoors, which is called En Plein Air in French.”

Soon after Charles Hawthorne started the art school, US Route 6 that runs into Provincetown became the “Oregon Trail” for artists and other creative minds. Hawthorne’s influence and teaching brilliance attracted several prominent artists and soon, the fisherman and artist coexisted in complete harmony. Provincetown served as an affordable place where artists could live cheaply in the summer and have the opportunity to learn and hone their art skills under an inviting sky and fresh sea breeze.

Over the last hundred plus years, Provincetown has turned into a highly sought after artist community and summer tourist attraction. Hosting a summer population of 60,000, Provincetown proves to be one of the most accepting societies in the country and is also known for its gay community. Local resident Todd Dufresne sings the praises of his beloved home: “I love Provincetown because it is a beach community as well as one of the largest Gay resort towns in the country. It is the kind of town that is welcoming to all; whether you are gay, bi, straight, black, yellow or any creed really. I can walk down Commercial Street and honestly say this is my home!”

It’s obvious beauty and inspiring nature has kept Provincetown as the oldest and longest continuous art colony in the country. Almost two-thirds of the total 17.5 sq mi of Provincetown is the Cape Cod National Seashore. There are between 60 and 70 galleries in Provincetown right now. Some of these galleries include: The Bowersock Gallery; Hilda Neily Gallery (, The Henry Phillips Gallery; Provincetown Art Association and Museum; and, the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum.

Over the years, several famous authors, artists, journalists, filmmakers, Pulitzer Prize winners, poets, and even Alice Brock have sought and found inspiration in Provincetown. The famous playwright Eugene O’Neill lived in Provincetown. A few other great creators of notable fame are: Hans Hofmann; Jackson Pollack; Howard Mitcham; Mark Protosevich; David Drake; Mary Oliver; Norman Mailer; Kate Clinton; Henry Hensche, and many more.

In fact, Henry Hensche took over the school after Charles Hawthorne’s death. Actually, there’s quite a story about how Henry Hensche took over the school. Hensche served as Hawthorne’s assistant and prodigy. He was as beloved by the students as was Charles Hawthorne. When Hawthorne passed away in 1930, his wife named a successor whom she thought would be fitting.

Regardless of the new director, the students gravitated toward Henry Hensche. “He was the true successor to Hawthorne’s legacy,” tells Lois Griffel. After a couple of years, at the urging of his students, Hensche purchased a building and started The Cape School of Art. Henry had hundreds of students including Lois Griffel and Hilda Neily. And, according to Griffel, “[I]n the Cape right now, I doubt there’s a single gallery that might not have a Henry Hensche Student.”

Hensche and his school gained more and more popularity throughout the world over the years. His insight and attention to light as an artist and his ability to teach lead him to be even more beloved by his students. Henry oversaw the school until 1985. After the death of his wife, he sold the building and the school to Lois Griffel.

The new transition to director of the school was completely natural because in addition to being a brilliant artist herself, Lois Griffel was also a born teacher. Prior to committing her life to her art full-time, Lois was an art teacher. She loved to teach, but found little time to paint and eventually left teaching to focus on her art full-time. Like others before her, she made the trek to Provincetown part-time to do portrait art and study. Eventually, she met her husband and they decided to live in Provincetown year round.

Griffel’s husband was a carpenter and when they bought the school from Hensche in 1985, they invested a lot of time and money in maintaining and improving upon the school. The year 1999 proved a grand success with the school’s 100 year anniversary. It received much press and a resurgence in attendance. However, due to rising economical costs and a deteriorating building, the school could no longer financially sustain itself and it closed down.

Despite the school closing, many have lifted the torch and have continued to teach; teaching, of course, in the tradition of its founder Charles Hawthorne and his predecessor, Henry Hensche. In fact, Hilda Neily of the Hilda Neily Gallery, and a few others have reopened the school. Hilda had her first show in Provincetown in 1969 and has lived there ever since. She loves the beauty that surrounds her daily. Of the town, she boasts, “[I]t’s a small town and everybody pretty much personally knows everybody else.”

The newly reopened school, The Cape School of Art ( will continue in the En Plein Air impressionist tradition. The reformed Cape School of Art affirms the validity that Provincetown exists as a true art colony. This colony serves as a refuge for artists and other creative minds alike and as long as Provincetown physically rests on the tip of Cape Cod, so will its long-standing open-minded society and art colony thrive.

© Copy Right Protected, All Rights Reserved. 1-13-2011

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: Content is protected !!